Bob Gates’ Bad Bet

Author Victor Sebestyen notes in a recent New York Times editorial that in 1988, then deputy director of the CIA Robert Gates bet $25 that the Russian army would not leave Afghanistan.  Now, Gates is assuring our NATO allies that the US "has no intention of pulling out of Afghanistan or abandoning our core mission there.  It is a mission we deem critical to our national security and vital national interests." 

It’s worth mentioning that Gates is a bureaucratic twit who got where he’s gotten by accommodating up and down, knowing how to make both his seniors and subordinates happy and not knowing much of anything else.  Every time he makes a public announcement you get a good feel for who talked to him last, his boss or his underlings.  He is, for the most part, a stooge for his long war flag and general officers: David Petraeus, Ray Odierno, Mike Mullen and Stan McChrystal.  On occasion, he’ll take direction from above — when he absolutely has to.  He’s a wind-direction checker and a tealeaf reader who butters both sides of his bread.  

According to the American Forces Press Service, a branch of the Pentagon’s propaganda ministry, Gates finds it "very heartening" to hear "mounting endorsements" from NATO of Gen. Stan McChrystal’s plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan.  Afghanistan has become NATO’s reason to exist.   

Our mission in Afghanistan has no bearing on our national security or vital national interests.  If we really wanted to root out the source of the 9/11 attacks, we’d invade and occupy Germany, home of the Hamburg cell where the attacks actually originated. But wait; we’re already occupying Germany.  We have been since the end of World War II.  That didn’t prevent 9/11 from happening, did it? Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the supposed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was in the Philippines when he proposed the plan to Osama bin Laden.  We occupied the Philippines for a long time, but they kicked us out. Most of the 9/11 thugs came from Saudi Arabia, who don’t want us in their country, and kissing the Saudis’ keister is our virtual national pastime.  And we’re sort of leaving Iraq, so we have to put more troops into Afghanistan, right? 

Journalist Gareth Porter shows us another reason why investing deeper into Afghanistan is such a bad bet.  The news that President Hamid Karzai’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai is on the CIA payroll is just the tip of the iceberg, Porter says.  We’ve been relying on Afghan warlords for security.  One of them — a private army commanded by Col. Matiullah Khan — receives $4.1 million per year to get two convoys from Kandahar to Tarin Kowt safely each month.  Tony Soprano never had it so good.   

The warlords are widely reviled by the Afghan population, and our forces are tainted by their relationship with them.  But it is impossible for McChrystal’s forces to operate forward bases without help from the warlords.  

What’s worse, if we cut off the warlords, they become the enemy.  It’s the same situation Petraeus created in Iraq; once you pay off bad guys to act like good guys, you have to keep paying them off or they become bad guys again.   

Our counterinsurgency doctrine describes a lot of hifalutin gibberish, but it all boils down to one thing: take along a lot of cash and a lot of guns.  Arm private armies and pay them off.  That’s how Petraeus created the illusion of a "successful" surge in Iraq, and it’s how McChrystal hopes to repeat the performance in AfPak.  It’s balderdash.   

State Secretary Hillary Clinton is hawkish on AfPak, which is another reason to be wary of further involvement there.  Secretary Hillary is keeping up the tough girl act Candidate Hillary put on so the Republicans and the neocons wouldn’t call her a girly man.  At a press conference in Pakistan she said that the advance of extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a threat to America’s security.  What kind of extremism is she talking about?  The kind of extremism the Taliban espouse or the extreme corruption and abuse and incompetence that our supposed "partners" in the supposedly "legitimate" governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan practice?   

She said that the Pakistani government’s current offensive in Waziristan is of "vital interest" to the U.S.  My aching Adam’s apple it is.  Waziristan is no more vital to us than any other spot where al-Qaeda or other terror groups may be plotting against us, and in the iPhone age, that could be anywhere from the Marianas Trench to the Sea of Tranquility.  If we’re reliant on the Pakistani government to protect our vital interests, we’re ewed-scray.  

The ancient Chinese warfare philosopher Sun Tzu admonished that no nation ever benefited from a long war.  Yet a Long War is exactly what our military wants to lead us into.  Our never-ending quagmires in Asian rabbit holes are about little more than giving the U.S. military, specifically the Army, an excuse for hogging the federal budget.  They want to escalate Afghanistan so they have a place to play war for a generation or so.   

Gates has repeatedly said we’re going to stay in Afghanistan.  Let’s hope he bets $25 on it.

Author: Jeff Huber

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), was a naval flight officer who commanded an aircraft squadron and was operations officer of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the carrier that fought the Kosovo War. Jeff earned a master of arts degree in post-modern imperialism at the U.S. Naval War College. His weekly satires on U.S. foreign policy high jinks are archived at his blog, Pen and Sword. Jeff's critically applauded novel Bathtub Admirals, a lampoon of America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Jeff lives with dogs in a house by the beach on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, and in the summer he has a nice tan.